No Identity, No People

A People Without An Identity Are Not A People—

A Report On Lares, Puerto Rico

September 13, 2010

Without an identity, a people would be unable to identify themselves. Without an identity, a people cannot say they exist. In fact, without an identity, people do not exist—in order to exist, one must be identified and therefore have an identity.

A pitirre in Lares, one of Puerto Rico’s national symbols

How is it that people come to identify themselves? In different ways—but one thing is for sure: without a You, an I would not exist; and without a Them, an Us would not exist. Therefore, this lesson is clear: We all depend on each other for our own identities. We also, because of our connection, affect each other’s identities. This is the main point of this short writing against the arbitrary revising of a people’s identity that is occurring today in Lares, Puerto Rico. History shows that a people’s identity is essential to the definition of their culture, and that when a people have a strong self-identity, they become dignified in their humanity. This human dignity is the result of a people consciously exercising their right to make the road that is the destiny of their culture. And history shows that this dignity always calls on those people to fight in defense of their survival—to fight in defense of their culture and their identity. The revisionist attack on the dignified and patriotic town of Lares, and the response of the Lareños (and Lareñas), shows all of this very well.

The second main plaza of Lares

The place of Lares in the history of Puerto Rico is very clear, history books explaining that it helped form the name to a revolt described as a grito that took place on September 23, 1868. The place of Lares in the folklore of its people is also very clear, for the leader of el Grito de Lares, Ramón Emeterio Betances, is known as el Padre de la Patria, for his revolt was given substance by a people who identified themselves as native Puerto Ricans in opposition to the foreign Spanish colonial system—a people fighting for their freedom as an independent nation… And Lares is el Altar de la Patria, where patriots seized the town for a short while, unfurling Mariana Bracetti’s revolutionary flag in the town church, and declaring a free republic. The history of Lares is very clear, with books, writings, and folklore capturing in a bottle the essence of the revolutionary spirit that developed and, under a continuing colonialism, is the Puerto Rican identity, the basis of the Puerto Rican culture. The Puerto Rican nation was declared on September 23, 1868, Betances is the father of the nation, and Lares is the birthplace of the nation. With such a clear history, one can only wonder why no car accidents have yet to occur when drivers see either of two signs in Lares claiming it to be “Ciudad de Cielos Abiertos.”

Names of heroes who died September 23, 1868, and patriots selected to lead the declared Republic of Puerto Rico

Completed by mid-July, the two fish-shaped signs in Lares are prominent to drivers entering Lares down those main streets. Permitted by the mayor of Lares, the label given on the sign becomes curious, absurd, interesting, and confusing. In the end, what it amounts to is an attack on the identity of the town and the culture of its people, for what place do Cielos Abiertos hold in the history of Lares? It’s upsetting to think the mayor of such a dignified town, also known as, lest we forget, la Ciudad del Grito, would allow such confusing messages to be constructed. Of course the people would not be caught on bent knees, passively accepting the renaming of their town; they would fight in defense of culture. On September 12, 2010, when the island celebrated the life of Pedro Albizu Campos, the people of Lares organized a broad demonstration that addressed the local municipal attempts at revisionism. With an estimate of 2,500 people in attendance, a march beginning by 9am culminated in a rally around the plaza de Lares where nationalists, independentistas, socialists, populares, statehooders, communists, and other formations of people displayed the flag of Lares in a display of their Lareño identity that ended by 4pm. The message of the people was clear: Pedro Albizu Campos is remembered, and the people of Lares are proud of their identity.

The flag of Lares, the first revolutionary flag of Puerto Rico

Ramón Emeterio Betances

Pedro Albizu Campos

Identity/culture is essential to a people, for a people without an identity are not a people. The dignity that comes with living as a human being carrying the mark of Puerto Rican culture is a dignity that is all too human, for dignity is the direct result of a cultural identity created out of free will. It was that free will that forced people before and after el Grito de Lares to choose revolution in order to assert the unique Puerto Rican identity that, like all established nationalities, grows best with self-determination and independence. The people of Lares are clear about the identity that history has blessed them with, as residents of the altar of the nation, and on September 12 showed that with a militancy influenced by rainy conditions.

On behalf of freedom loving people, i believe i can state that the signs renaming Lares as anything other than el Ciudad del Grito or el Altar de la Patria is an attack on the town and people of Lares, and on all Puerto Ricans because of what Lares mean to the nation, and needs to be changed. Nowhere on earth should a people, who struggled to create and maintain the self-identity that is so crucial to defining ones culture, be rewritten by others supposedly in a position to represent them. The signs in Lares were wrong and the demonstrations of the people on September 12 were right! The people united in struggle can win any victory! No to the revisionism in Lares!

The flag of Puerto Rico

Now is the time for hope to organize itself and to walk forward in the valleys and in the cities.” – Los Zapatistas

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